Marriage-Based Green Cards
To sponsor a foreign spouse for a green card, the petitioner must either be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder). If the sponsoring spouse obtained his or her own lawful permanent resident status through marriage, there are certain rules that must be followed. This is often overlooked, which can have drastic consequences. In addition, petitioners must be able to meet the following requirements:
- Parties must be legally married and able to produce a valid Marriage Certificate.
- If applicable, parties must be legally divorced and show sufficient proof of this.
- The petitioning spouse must be an adult or include proper consent.
- The petitioning spouse must be at least 18 years of age in order to sign an affidavit of financial support, or a joint sponsor must be included. In addition, a selection of documentation will be required including the applicant’s passport, passport style photographs, medical examinations and police clearances, proof of the petitioner’s (sponsor’s) citizenship, marriage certificate and when needed, proof of the termination of any previous marriages.
- Attend an interview and provide additional documentation of the marriage and participate in an interrogation process concerning the good faith marriage of the couple.
- Children under age of 21 can also be included in the green card application process as long as they receive their support the primary beneficiary of the application. If there is joint custody or shared custody, appropriate court documentation must be provided to complete the case. Either stepchildren or natural children are typically eligible to apply through this process based upon marriage. However, children are not automatically included in the application process, and careful attention must be given to complete the proper applications so that a child is not left behind.
The applicant process for these types of cases varies depending on whether the case is filed in the United States through the adjustment of status process or the case is filed abroad and completed through the consular processing method. Unfortunately, processing times do vary, so it is often difficult to ascertain exactly how long a case will take. If the case is done while residing in the United States (adjustment of status), the applicant may be eligible to receive an employment authorization document (EAD) which permits the applicant to seek employment, obtain a Social Security number and a drivers’ license within 90 days of proper filing.
While these cases appear somewhat basic in scope, they can involve unexpected challenges. Criminal backgrounds (no matter how long ago) can prevent approvals, and fraudulent activity in obtaining visas or other documents and unlawful presence can cause difficulties. Financial obligations required in the affidavit of support can also become problematic and result in delayed or denied cases. Failure to include information, albeit done in error, can also lead to processing delays or denials.
Green cards obtained through marriage where the marriage is less than two years old at the time of interview are classified as conditional. In other words, the lawful permanent resident status will expire in two years, and the couple must reapply to remove the condition. Failure to reapply to remove the condition in a timely manner can lead to unfortunate consequences including canceling the green card. If the marriage is more than two years in length when the interview occurs, then the green card classification will be permanent and the card is issued in 10-year increments. Immigration interviews for 10-year cards are often more detailed and difficult for couples.
Immigration officers are extremely well-trained in determining the bona fide relationship of the couple and as such will often delve into many sensitive areas of a relationship. Often new marriages are put at risk in this process if the parties are unable to respond to the officer’s inquiries in the proper manner. Unfortunately, because there is an extremely high fraud rate in marriage-based immigration cases, even the strongest marriage can sometimes be at risk in a green card denial. Therefore, it is important to consult a qualified immigration attorney to properly review the specific circumstances of each case.
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